***Updated as of May 2022***
Of course, Disney is for everyone! But planning for Disney with Little Kids is very different than planning for Disney with grade-schoolers, teenagers, or for an adults-only getaway. In this mini-series of blogs, we will go through planning for Disney with each of these different age groups, focusing on the following topics:
- How to prepare your kids (because sometimes, jumping up and down shouting, WE’RE GOING TO DISNEY! is unfortunately not enough preparation, especially for those little kids)
- The best attractions at each park for each age group
- Strategies for fun, successful and of course, magical days at the parks
As parents, there is nothing better than seeing the sparkle in our children’s eyes as magical things happen before them; whether it’s seeing presents left by Santa on Christmas morning, finding a prize under their pillow from the tooth fairy, or of course, watching their favorite characters come to life in front of their eyes at Disney.
While some Disney enthusiasts may be lucky enough to live close to the parks and frequent them often, many parents who invest in planning a life-changing Disney experience for their children often wonder when is the best time to go based on their children’s age/s. The truth is that it’s completely based on YOUR family. Disney has experiences for every age group, and will be an incredible experience for your children at any age. As parents, you know your children, and what they can handle best, and what’s more, you know yourself, and what you can handle best, too, which is just as important. Younger children will require a lot more preparation beforehand and patience during the trip, while older children might require more scheduled plans to keep them busy and to avoid that dreaded “I’m bored” complaint in the middle of a long attraction line.
I’ve heard many parents who are skeptical about taking toddlers to Disney, or to travel anywhere, because such young children may not remember it, but they WILL if you help them remember it! Although the last few years have made even the most adventurous travelers have to scale back, traveling with little kids is absolutely worth the work it takes to do so. Little kids are little intellectual sponges, soaking up everything as a learning experience, and travel is certainly one of the best ways to learn, no matter what age you are. A trip to Disney not only brings their favorite characters to life, but also exposes children to people, environments, sights, smells and sounds they may never have experienced before.
Here is what you need to know when planning for Disney with toddlers or preschoolers (infants are great to bring to the parks, too, of course, as most infants can be willingly strolled or carried anywhere, I just thought it might be more helpful to begin the guide around the age when many children may not willingly go ANYwhere you try to take them…luckily, Disney is somewhere almost everyone wants to be, at any age).
How to Prepare your Little Kid (Toddler and/or Preschooler) for a Disney Vacation:
As much as we would all love to make our big, “We’re going to Disney!” announcement and have that be all the preparation needed, most toddlers and preschoolers need A LOT more information than that.
Do something Disney related every day!
For as long as possible beforehand, years even, get your children acquainted with anything and everything Disney. Watch Disney movies and get to know your children’s favorite characters, so you’ll know where to direct your attention in the parks. Listen to Disney music, and bonus points if you and your kids can sing along! Play with Disney related toys, whether it’s Mickey and Minnie, princesses or Star Wars characters, start bringing the magic to life through pretend play, including dress up with crowns and, of course, ears! You can even make Mickey waffles on a weekend morning or as a breakfast-for-dinner treat, literally anything to familiarize your kids with all things Disney. This way, when you do make that big announcement, and when it’s finally time for the trip, your children will be super excited to see the characters they play with and watch everyday come to life right in front of them.
Tell them EVERYTHING that will happen on the trip.
Surprises can be fun for some people, but they are almost NEVER fun for toddlers and preschoolers. If the surprise factor is important to you, I highly advise waiting until your kids are older and can handle surprises better. Toddlers thrive on knowing what to expect, and they count on their parents to provide them with the security of knowing what will come next. If you’ll be flying to Disney, and especially if it will be your child’s first flight, start by explaining how you’ll get to the airport, and continue on in as much detail as possible from there. If it will be a long road trip, prep your child for that as well. The same way that many adults find comfort in seeing the plans for each day of our Disney trip on the My Disney Experience App, children are also comforted by knowing what the trip will be like, overall and day by day. I’ve even seen some parents create a little “book” out of a small photo album with a picture and a few words on each page to provide an overview of what to expect (“On Monday, we will go to Magic Kingdom to see the big castle and wave to Mickey Mouse!”), and then talk about each page in more detail as needed.
As most parents with children of any age already know, there is a chance that even our best laid plans will not go as…well, planned. Even if we prep, prep, prep our kiddos, and even if they’re super excited to be there, the whole out-of-the-ordinary experience may cause a meltdown here and there, and may cause us to miss a Genie+ reservation or a coveted character meal. Now, think back to that voice that made you question whether or not a toddler would even remember a vacation, and consider: will your two year old child remember their first princess encounter over a beautiful breakfast? Maybe. Will your child remember your love and hugs through whatever each day brings, as always? Absolutely. So basically, just be the amazing parent that you are every other day while you’re on vacation too, and remind yourself that of all the princesses and characters and Disney icons, YOU are the greatest hero of your child’s story for those few precious early years, and THAT alone is reason enough to celebrate with a trip to Disney.
The Best Attractions for Toddlers and Preschoolers at Each Park
Hands down, Magic Kingdom is the best park for the littlest visitors. If they’ve been watching Disney movies, the castle will be instantly recognizable to them, and Magic Kingdom has the highest number of rides that are good for all ages out of any of the parks.
Here are the attractions toddlers and preschoolers can enjoy with parents and other family members (listed alphabetically, with my own tried and true favorites starred):
- Astro Orbiter in Tomorrowland (slowly revolving spaceships)
- The Barnstormer in Fantasyland (a very tame roller coaster, might be best for preschoolers rather than toddlers, depending on your child)
- Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin in Tomorrowland (can be dark and flashy for very littles, best for preschoolers, though always depends on your child)
- *Dumbo the Flying Elephant in Fantasyland (slowly revolving flying elephants)*
- *”it’s a small world” in Fantasyland (classic boat ride and song, not to be missed)*
- Jungle Cruise in Adventureland (newly refurbished boat cruise ride)
- Mad Tea Party in Fantasyland (spin as much or as little as you choose as your teacup glides around a large gazebo)
- The Magic Carpets of Aladdin in Adventureland (slowly revolving flying carpets)
- The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh in Fantasyland (a tour through the Hundred Acre Wood, but dark at times, so prep toddlers just in case)
- *Peter Pan’s Flight in Fantasyland (classic slowly flying boat ride over London, but usually very high wait times, so plan accordingly)
- *Prince Charming Regal Carrousel in Fantasyland (classic carousel ride close behind the Castle)*
- Swiss Family Treehouse in Adventureland (great for little climbers, but not so great for toddlers who haven’t mastered walking and climbing)
- Tom Sawyer Island in Frontierland (accessible by log raft, a great place to explore for proficient walkers and climbers)
- *Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover in Tomorrowland (classic slow moving ride with great views of the park)*
- Under the Sea ~ Journey of The Little Mermaid in Fantasyland (slow moving ride through scenes from the movie)
- Walt Disney World Railroad in All Lands (classic train ride with usual stops in every land, except during the current refurbishment, though the train is still parked in Fantasyland and available for photos if your kiddos love trains)
- Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress in Tomorrowland (slow-moving ride with animatronics displaying the technological advancements of the 20th Century, usually a low wait time and good break from walking and the heat if needed)
(This is a long list, but that’s the GREAT thing about taking toddlers and preschoolers to Magic Kingdom – there is SO MUCH for them to do! If you can, plan for two days at this park to prevent inevitable meltdowns from pushing to squeeze everything in one day.)
Additionally, parades, shows, and fireworks (depending on your child’s noise level tolerance) are great for little kids! Here is a list of current entertainment at Magic Kingdom (for exact showtimes on any given day, check your My Disney Experience App):
- Cinderella Castle: A Beacon of Magic, illuminations on the castle, showtime at 8:30pm (subject to change daily)
- The Dapper Dans, Main Street, U.S.A., showtimes throughout the day
- Disney Adventure Friends Cavalcade, Main Street, U.S.A. (and also meandering throughout the park), showtimes throughout the day
- Disney Enchantment, Fireworks show at Cinderella Castle, showtime at 9:00pm (subject to change daily)
- Disney Festival of Fantasy Parade, through Fantasyland, showtimes at noon and 3:00pm
- Let the Magic Begin, Park Entrance, showtime at 8:55am
- Main Street Philharmonic, Main Street, U.S.A., showtimes throughout the day
- Mickey’s Celebration Cavalcade, Main Street, U.S.A. (and also meandering throughout the park), showtimes throughout the day
- Mickey’s Magical Friendship Faire, character show in front of Cinderella Castle, showtimes throughout the day
And, of course, don’t miss Character Visits, complete with hugs, autographs and pictures! Here are the characters you and your littles can see in Magic Kingdom (and don’t forget, you can use Genie+ to get access to the Lightning Lane for character visits that are set up with Standby and Lightning Lane options):
- Anastasia and Drizella in Fantasyland at the Cinderella Fountain
- Belle in Fantasyland at Maurice’s Cottage
- Captain Jack Sparrow in Adventureland on Adventureland Stage
- Chip and Dale in Fantasyland at Storybook Circus
- Cinderella in Fantasyland at Princess Fairytale Hall
- Elena in Fantasyland at Princess Fairytale Hall
- Mickey on Main Street, U.S.A. at Town Square Theater
- Princess Tiana in Fantasyland at Princess Fairytale Hall
- Rapunzel in Fantasyland at Princess Fairytale Hall
- Stitch in Tomorrowland at Rocket Tower Plaza Stage
As more characters become available to visit, this list will be updated, so check back frequently!
If your kiddos love Toy Story and/or Star Wars, they will LOVE this park, as just walking through Toy Story Land and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge are both visually engaging and exciting to be immersed in! Though there are lots of big kid rides in this park, there is still plenty of entertainment and fun for the little kids as well.
These are the attractions (rides and shows) your toddler or preschooler can take part in at Hollywood Studios (again, listed alphabetically with my personal favorites starred):
- Beauty & The Beast Live on Stage (a Broadway-style rendition of the classic tale, showtimes run throughout the day)
- Disney Junior Play and Dance! at the Animation Courtyard with showtimes throughout the day
- *For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration (of course a must-do for any Frozen fans)*
- *Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway (an immersive train ride experience, which may be better suited for older preschoolers than toddlers even though there is no height restriction)*
- *Muppet*Vision 3D (a fun and funny 3D film for kids of all ages)*
- Pixar Pals Motorcade on Hollywood Boulevard, showtimes throughout the day
- Toy Story Mania! (a carnival-style shooting game that feels like a ride even if your little never does any shooting)
- Walt Disney Presents (the gallery of artifacts and short documentary on Walt Disney may not be super entertaining to your little kids, but can provide a cool, quiet break if needed)
And here are the Characters available to see and visit with in Hollywood Studios:
- Chewbacca in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, sightings around Batuu
- Chip and Dale on Hollywood Boulevard, sightings on Brown Derby Lawn
- Daisy and Donald Duck on Hollywood Boulevard, sightings on the Front Entrance Balcony
- Doc McStuffins at Animation Courtyard
- Fancy Nancy at Animation Courtyard
- First Order Stormtrooper in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, sightings around Batuu
- Goofy on Sunset Boulevard, sightings on Tower of Terror Balcony
- James P Sullivan (Sulley) at Animation Courtyard
- Kylo Ren in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, sightings around Batuu
- Mickey and Minnie Mouse on Commissary Lane at Red Carpet Dreams
- Olaf at Echo Lake in Celebrity Spotlight
- Pluto at Animation Courtyard
- Rey in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, sightings around Batuu
- Vampirina at Animation Courtyard
- Vi Moradi in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, sightings around Batuu
Overall, Hollywood Studios is a great park for toddlers and preschoolers because of the immersive lands, and the ability to visit many attractions and characters with time left to head back to your resort for a nap or rest before dinner.
Almost every little kid loves animals of all kinds, so a visit to Animal Kingdom will delight them to no end! Whether they love the King of the Jungle Lions best, or are fascinated by the tiniest of bugs, or even if they just love and want to see more Disney characters, Animal Kingdom will make for a great park day.
These are the attractions (rides and shows) for toddlers and preschoolers at Animal Kingdom (in alphabetical order with my personal favorites starred):
- Affection Section (an outdoor petting zoo reached by taking the Wildlife Express Train ride to Rafiki’s Planet Watch)
- Animal Encounters: Winged Encounters – The Kingdom Takes Flight (a bird show animal experience)
- The Boneyard (a toddler and preschooler-specific open-air play space made to look like a dinosaur dig with plenty of nooks and crannies to explore)
- A Celebration of Festival of the Lion King (a musical show celebration of The Lion King)
- Conservation Station (get up close with some of the animals and caregivers in the park, accessible by Wildlife Express Train to Rafiki’s Planet Watch)
- *Disney KiteTails (huge and elaborate kites soar in shows inspired by The Lion King and The Jungle Book)*
- Fossil Fun Games (dino-themed carnival games in DinoLand U.S.A.)
- It’s Tough to be a Bug! (3D film inspired by the Pixar movie A Bug’s Life)
- *Kilimanjaro Safaris (a real-life safari with a variety of animals strolling near your open air vehicle)*
- *Na’Vi River Journey (a slow moving boat ride through Pandora’s rainforest)*
- TriceraTop Spin (slowly revolving flying dinosaurs)
- Wilderness Explorers (complete challenges and earn badges around the park)
- Wildlife Express Train (ride around the park to Rafiki’s Planet Watch on a rustic locomotive)
In addition to these attractions, Animal Kingdom features the variety of animals found at the most popular zoos throughout the country, including elephants, lions, tigers and many more. Also, Animal Kingdom features Character Cavalcades down the river, and characters to visit with as well. Here is the list of characters to see at Animal Kingdom:
- Discovery River Character Cruise in Asia, showtimes throughout the day
- Goofy and Pals Set Sail in Asia, showtimes throughout the morning
- Kevin on Discovery Island, sightings on Discovery Island
- Mickey and Friends Flotilla in Asia, showtimes throughout the day
As with the other parks, as more characters become available for visits, these lists will be updated, so be sure to check back before your trip!
Although EPCOT is the favorite park of many adults, there is so much for children to love at this park as well. Recent and current renovations have reshaped the park into four distinct neighborhoods: World Showcase (where you stroll through different countries), World Discovery, World Celebration and World Nature, with well-loved characters integrated throughout the park, as always.
Here are the attractions suitable for your toddler or preschooler at EPCOT (listed alphabetically, and with my personal favorites starred):
- Coral Reefs, Sea Turtles, and Sea Base in World Nature (little kids LOVE fish tanks, especially huge ones, so this could be a bit of a rest for parents while keeping kiddos entertained)
- *Frozen Ever After in World Showcase at Norway (mostly slow moving boat ride through Arendelle, a must do for Frozen fans, but very high wait times, so plan accordingly)*
- *Gran Fiesta Tour Starring The Three Caballeros in World Showcase at Mexico (slow moving boat ride through the Mexico Pavilion)*
- Harmonious, Fireworks show from the water in the middle of World Showcase, nightly at 9:00pm
- *Journey Into Imagination With Figment and ImageWorks – The “What If” Labs in World Celebration (slow moving tour of the Imagination Institute with an interactive play area after the ride)*
- Kidcot Fun Stops throughout World Showcase (collect a memento from each country while giving kiddos something to look forward to at each stop throughout the showcase)
- *Living with the Land in World Nature (slow moving boat ride through greenhouses that grow crops from around the world; seems unlikely, but this is actually a favorite of my kiddos, and usually has low wait times)*
- *Model Trains in World Showcase at Germany (although not an officially listed “attraction,” these model trains can keep kiddos entertained for a very long time, especially if you have any Thomas fans on your hands, just make sure everyone is sunblocked and hydrated because there isn’t much shade around this area)*
- Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure in World Showcase at France (an immersive 4D ride experience perfect for all ages, not too scary for the littles, and still exciting for the bigger kiddos, and adults, too)
- The Seas with Nemo & Friends in World Nature (slow moving ride looking for Nemo, who got lost, again, in the ocean)
- *Spaceship Earth in World Celebration (slow moving ride through EPCOT’s iconic globe)*
- Turtle Talk With Crush in World Nature (real-time question and answer session with Crush the Turtle)
Also, there are so many Characters available for visits at EPCOT that you should definitely plan to spend some time letting your little one get to know some of their favorite characters in person. Here are the Characters to see and visit with at EPCOT:
- Alice in the United Kingdom (World Showcase)
- Anna and Elsa at Royal Sommerhus in Norway (World Showcase)
- Belle in France (World Showcase)
- Disney Pals (usually Goofy and Pluto, but can include Mickey, Minnie, Donald & Daisy) at the EPCOT Main Entrance
- Donald Duck in Mexico (World Showcase)
- Joy at Imageworks in Imagination Pavilion
- Mickey Mouse at the Disney and Pixar Short Film Festival (World Celebration)
- Minnie Mouse at the start of World Showcase (near Mexico)
- Mulan in China (World Showcase)
- Princess Aurora in France at the Fragrance Gardens Gazebo (World Showcase)
- Princess Jasmine in Morocco (World Showcase)
- Snow White in Germany (World Showcase)
- Vanellope von Schweetz at Imageworks in Imagination Pavilion
- Winnie the Pooh in World Celebration, sightings in the Garden near Imagination
All in all, EPCOT has a great combination of attractions that appeal to all ages and interests, from the most modern technology in World Discovery, to honoring the world’s oldest cultures in World Showcase.
Strategies for fun, successful and of course, magical days at the parks
With these lists, you have plenty of options to keep your toddlers and preschoolers as busy and entertained as they can handle. And speaking of what little kids can be expected to handle at any of the parks, here are a few tips to make your days easier and more enjoyable that I would be remiss not to mention:
- Don’t over-plan, and be as flexible as possible
Based on your kiddos’ interests and preferences, choose 3-5 attractions per park that you really want to experience, and prioritize those, with any additional attractions your child can handle thought of as a bonus. And if you don’t get to those priority experiences? Be flexible! Your child won’t know what they missed if you can find a way to pivot and modify an attraction that had a line that was too long, or that your child napped through.
- Plan rest time
Most of the parks have quiet, and sometimes even darkened, attractions (like the aquarium at EPCOT) that can provide a cool place to relax out of the sun, and that you can pop in and out of throughout the day as needed, depending where you find yourself in the park. If your child still naps, plan to give them the kind of nap-time they are most used to, whether that is in a bed by going back to the hotel room, or in a stroller or wrap as you continue to walk around (but maybe plan ahead for the wrap by putting an ice pack in the freezer of your room for your back at night). Nothing brings on a meltdown like a missed nap-time, so even if it feels like you’re missing out, think about the time you’d be missing out on later with a cranky, tired kiddo who refuses to cooperate.
- Bring or rent a stroller
Even if your kiddo is not usually the biggest fan of strollers, or if they seem too old for one, bring a stroller (or rent one of the newly-designed ones at the parks ahead of time), and your kiddo will more than likely be hopping in before you’ve even made it through the gates. Park days are exciting, but long, even with rest breaks, and you will have a much happier kiddo if their little legs and feet aren’t sore. *Bonus Tip 1: tie a recognizable ribbon around the handle of your stroller to find it quickly in stroller parks outside attractions, especially if you’re using a rented one, to prevent someone else from mistaking your stroller for their own; Bonus Tip 2: bring a plastic stroller cover (or elastic-edge clear plastic tablecloth) because it rains almost everyday in Florida, and while you’re at it, be sure to pack ponchos for everyone else in your party too, because a dry family is happier than a dripping one.
- Bring your bag of tricks
Even though you will be at The Most Magical Place on Earth, nothing can replace the little tricks that you as a parent know help your kiddos most. Maybe it’s a few packs of fruit snacks for a little energy boost, or your child’s favorite episodes of a show ready to go on your phone for long lines, or even a pocket-size flap book that’s familiar; try to make sure that there are those few touchstones of familiarity throughout a day when everything else is new and unfamiliar.
- See it all through your child’s eyes
The very best part of bringing toddlers and preschoolers to Disney is that the Magic truly is REAL for them. Don’t forget to watch their eyes light up, see their smiles spread, and capture their faces full of wonder in your memory forever, because the real Magic of Disney for parents is watching our children believe in it.
Do you have toddlers or preschoolers you now feel confident taking to Disney? I would love to help you plan your next Disney Vacation to make the most out of it with your kiddos! Click here for your free quote from me, Gina Pantina, a proud member of the Love of the Magic Vacations Travel Agent team!
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